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WMU Alumna Helps Others Navigate Their "Next Season"

“I will always be grateful for my time in Kalamazoo and my education at WMU. I had professors who challenged me and cared about me. I had a boss, Stan Henderson, who gave me a chance when I had not yet earned the right. He modeled what it means to educate a person…  offering me the chance to practice and refine my craft in his organization. My work at WMU’s Office of Admissions and Orientation was foundational to the success of my career.”

Leslie BraksickDr. Leslie Braksick has spent her professional life helping others cultivate their own successful careers. Co-founder of two companies, author of five books and numerous publications on leadership, behavior change, and transition; Leslie applies her knowledge and experience to help companies and leaders navigate important career transitions.

Her work is relied upon by companies and universities throughout the world, and she recently was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organizational Behavior Management Network.

The network exists to develop, enhance, and support the growth and vitality of organizational behavior management, and the award is given to those who fundamentally advance the understanding or application of behavioral principles in organizational settings.

“There is no higher honor for me professionally, than to receive this recognition,” said Leslie. “I am fortunate to do the work I love every day, with amazing clients and colleagues, advancing our application and understanding of the principles of behavioral science in corporate settings.”

How does she do it?

Leslie relies on the science of human behavior to enable business and individual success. MyNextSeason, a company she co-founded and co-leads, helps companies and leaders navigate important career transitions. Prior to MyNextSeason, she co-founded and led the global behavioral science consulting firm Continuous Learning Group, Inc.

Where did it all start?

Leslie’s professional journey begins in London, when she was studying abroad during her junior year at St. Bonaventure. She took a night class, Psychology of Work, where she felt a little out of place.

Everyone there was much older than me… doctors, lawyers, tradespeople, workers of many types. I was the youngest by far in the class,” Leslie said. “They were all miserable in their jobs with stories about how ineffective their leaders were, how pay was not distributed fairly, how promotions were not tied to performance, how training and tools were inadequate to perform the tasks they were being asked to do. I just listened—and could see how angry, upset, and frustrated they all were. I imagined they took that frustration home as they parented and lived life.” 

Leslie became obsessed with the questions: Who fixes these situations? Who communicates with leaders to let them know issues in their organizations and helps them make things better? Who changes the organizational systems and processes, so they don’t discourage desired and needed behaviors by customers for company success? 

Coming from upstate New York, Leslie had never even heard of Western Michigan University. As she searched for master’s and doctoral programs offering industrial psychology with a behavioral orientation, WMU emerged as a top choice. She was accepted, and set off to Kalamazoo where an assistantship in the psychology department was waiting for her. Or so she thought.

Leslie arrived on campus to find that her assistantship would not materialize, which changed her situation substantially. Undeterred and in need of an income source, she landed a new assistantship as the Campus Visit Coordinator, in charge of the Campus Visit Program. Leslie stepped foot on campus for the first time just days before, but went to work immediately to learn the landscape and to be a great leader for that program.

In her new role, Leslie observed and overheard frustrations expressed by operations employees whose desks were near hers. She decided to approach the director of admissions, introduce herself and area of study, and ask if she could be helpful with issues his organization seemed to be facing. The answer was a fast ‘yes’, so, with oversight by her advisor, Dr. William Redmon, she set about making a plan.

In less than three months absenteeism and overtime costs were eliminated; turnaround time on applications went from months to days—the best among peer institutions; and morale was at an all-time high,” Leslie said. “By the end of my first semester, the University created a new full-time role, Admissions Development Specialist—to expand the impact and efforts started. With a salary of $19,500, employee tuition discount, and benefits, I felt like the richest person in the world.”

Leslie spent the next several years working in admissions and orientation at WMU doing leadership development, operations improvement, training and performance management—all while going to school full time. Her work was so impactful that she was asked to consult with two other Michigan universities to replicate what had been achieved at WMU. She presented her work at conferences, and her dissertation was published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management.

“I left WMU in 1990 with three and half years of professional job experience, master’s and doctorate degrees, and was recognized at graduation for being the youngest Ph. D in WMU history,” Leslie said.

Leslie knew that she wanted to continue this work with bigger organizations, and in 1993, she cofounded The Continuous Learning Group (CLG).

Among CLG’s first clients were GE, Union Carbide, and Bell Atlantic—each of whom were seeking help with leadership, culture, and performance issues. For the next 21 years, Leslie led CLG, advising its senior most clients, helping them transform their organizations by applying the principles of behavioral science. A strong pipeline of Ph. D graduates from WMU’s OBM program was key to the company’s success and growth.

Then, Leslie discovered another void in the marketplace after receiving numerous phone calls and emails from past clients she had coached, and felt called to do something about it.

“They were struggling on what to do next in ‘retirement’—because they were in their late 50s and early 60s—and found themselves transitioning earlier than anticipated, without a plan for what to do next,” Leslie explained. “I had no one to refer them to… who understood issues of identity and purpose, especially for those in senior leadership roles.”

Leslie left CLG to pursue her next season. Leslie spent the following months studying the leadership retirement space, interviewing over 100 former executives. The end result was a methodology for navigating the retirement transition. In 2014, she cofounded MyNextSeason, a company whose vision was to help executives find purpose after ‘retirement.’

Since then, and for almost 10 years, MyNextSeason has been helping professionals transition careers, discern what they want to do next, and land well. MyNextSeason supports clients globally and Leslie has, again, applied behavioral science to help solve a timely and important organizational issue.

After creating so much impact for so many companies and leaders, Leslie reflected on what gives her the greatest sense of pride.

1) With both CLG and MyNextSeason, we undertook the hard work to practice what we preach at every turn; to exhibit and be held accountable as leaders, to the highest of standards in leadership, company culture, and client and employee experience. That required a lot of (extra) work, and a constant willingness to receive feedback, change, and grow. It was both rewarding and incredibly humbling.   

2) I have worked with some of the most respected companies and gifted leaders in the world. In earning their trust, I have had the gift of abundant challenging work and deep friendships that remain at the heart of my life and career. 

3) My family. Being a wife, mother, and now grandmother is the most important thing to me in the world. With the unwavering support of my husband Matthew, I was able to navigate an intense and demanding career, with heavy business travel, while striving to be the mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend that I aspired to be.

Finally, when asked, Leslie offers the following sage advice for current students and those embarking on their professional journeys:

“Distinguish yourself through your performance. What matters most is what you do with the opportunities in front of you. Be personally accountable. Be open. Seek ways to help others. Top performers are never let go… they are fought for, compensated well, and promoted. If you are not getting where you want to go, ask for feedback. Perhaps there are things you are doing, unknowingly, that are holding you back. Feedback is a gift that should be given and received often.”

To learn more about Dr. Braksick and her work, visit lesliebraksick.com